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  • No Place Like Home: The Transgendered Narrative of Leslie Feinberg's Stone Butch Blues
  • Jay Prosser (bio)

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you’re destined for.

–C.P. Cavafy, “Ithaka”

A homeless life has no storyline.

–Lars Eighner, Travels with Lizbeth: Three Years on the Road and on the Streets

Strange to be exiled from your own sex to borders that will never be home.

–Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues

It's a bit like going to another country, to become a naturalised citizen. You don't know how you will blend in but you must plan to provide yourself with all the accoutrements from the land you are coming from, or else you will end up in a defective state. . . . Rather than being an immigrant, one is returning home like a Jew. [End Page 483] . . . You can divide up transsexuals into the immigrants who see the new world ahead rather like El Dorado, the refugees who get bundled into that new state without good preparations, and the defectors who have tried very hard to be good citizens, even pretend that they are, but deep inside they are yearning and waiting for a bolt-hole opportunity.

–Anonymous transsexual woman, cited in Tully, Accounting for Transsexuality and Transhomosexuality

The figure who shapes queer theory's constructionist account of gender is the transgenderist, the subject who crosses gender boundaries in some way, whether through identification, actions, or dress. Queer theory fixes on the transgendered crossing in order to denaturalize gender, to loosen its tie from sex, gender's bodily referent. Indeed, gender-crossing elucidates sex itself as a performative, a category as constructed and unnatural as gender; as the subject crosses gender lines in spite of his/her sexed body, sex is shown to be indeterminate of gender, immaterial in both senses. Transgender thus reveals as fraudulent the accepted version of the relations between sex and gender in which sex is thought to be the natural cause of gender. The transgendered subject's role is that of a debunker, unveiling this representation of sex to be just that, a representation or simulation, not the natural cause or ground of gender at all, but its projection, in the words of Judith Butler, “gender all along” (8). In this sense, transgender has played a key part in the poststructuralist unraveling of a previous narrative of gender in which sex stands for nature and gender for culture. Such has been the canonical narrative of interdisciplinary feminist work on gender until (to use Jane Gallop's formula for periodization) around 1990, if Gender Trouble might be seen as marking this discursive shift in thinking about sex.

More interestingly, conceived through transgender, the queer understanding of gender as performative intervenes in the assumption that gendering is a narrative. The sexed body is no longer origin or starting point, the story going on to relate the acquisition of culture's gender, and becoming a man or a woman marking its ending. Queer gender undoes the linear progression of this plot, intentionally confusing [End Page 484] causes and effects. Sex and gender appear not as distinctive and substantial characters but as evanescent, nonreferential, and overlapping codes. Most strikingly, through the transgendered subject, the very teleology of the previous story is fundamentally undermined. No longer is it said that “one is not born a woman, but rather becomes one,” the surety of that becoming driving the narrative. In Butler's reformulation of de Beauvoir's famous epigram on the construction of gender nearly half a century later, not only may one never become one, even if one thinks one does, it is not clear what is meant anymore by such becoming: “There is nothing in [de Beauvoir's] account that guarantees that the ‘one’ who becomes a woman is necessarily female” (8). The possibility of transgender in Butler's rereading of de Beauvoir here is absolutely pivotal for it challenges the teleology of gender, the assumption that the telos of male is man, of female, woman–the belief that gendering is a narrative with the culturally unmarked sexed body as a recognizable beginning and gendered identity as its clear-cut ending. Indeed, Butler has been...